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Christianity was built for moments exactly like these.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote of holocaust victims, “They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for.”
When St. Peter said to “Always be ready to give a reason for your hope.” he meant to be ready for times of crisis like what the world faces today.
We have in abundance what the world needs most right now: Hope. Our job is to find it and share it.
First, bear the difficulties you face with hope. Like Dan Burke.
Friends from Colorado Springs sent us an email calling for prayers for our old friend, Dan Burke of the Avila Institute, who is infected with the coronavirus, and is in grave danger since he has a genetic lung disease.
In the last online course he taught before going to the hospital, “He was totally peaceful even as he gasped for breath,” said one participant, “and was counseling us on God’s peace.”
“I want you all to look at me,” Dan said. “This is what you fear. But I am telling you to have no fear. God is the giver and taker of life and I trust in him.” (Editorial update: As of publication, Dan’s wife shares that he is doing much better!)
Second, be ready to explain suffering as only we can.
Christians alone know one crucial piece of information: In suffering we share in the very life of God.
Jesus Christ, who is the Logos, or Word, that orders the universe, entered into the human family in order to share our suffering. By doing this, he changed everything.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” says the Gospel of John.
St. John Paul II explains what this means: “Through the union of the Heart of Jesus to the Person of the Word of God we can say: in Jesus, God loves humanly, suffers humanly, rejoices humanly. And vice versa: In Jesus, human love, human suffering, human glory acquire divine intensity and power.”
In fact, our entire faith is built around suffering: The Church was founded at the crucifixion of our leader, and then grew by persecution and martyrdom. We have a longer penitential season than any other major religion, along with a weekly penitential Friday.
We put the cross in the middle of our churches, in the middle of our year, in the middle of our lives.
I’ve tried to be ready with my own answers to the problem of suffering. Develop yours. Start with the Church teaching collected here (especially No. 309 and following) and here (especially 1500 and following). In prayer, find a hope that you can share.
Third, alleviate the suffering of others. Like Ryan Lobb did.
It has been inspiring to see so many people sacrifice so much for the sake of those most at risk, and to see the creative ways people are serving others. Here in Atchison, Kansas, one student got his friends together and founded the Atchison Coronavirus Volunteer Association.
His reasons point to the heart of the Christian message. “Even if we don’t know it, [we] have been prepared for a crisis like this,” Ryan said. Our faith “has formed us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in these desperate times.”
“I worked at a grocery store for six years and saw how hard it was for elderly to get groceries,” Ryan said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they are a burden by reaching out to us with any kind of assistance.”
Lobb challenged others “to not waste this opportunity that we have been given to serve those in need in whatever capacity that we are able.”
If the Church uniquely understands suffering, it is only because for us, love is fundamental.
John sums up the reason for the incarnation as “God so loved the world that he sent his only son.” Acts sums up Jesus not just by describing his death, but by saying “he went about doing good.” Tertullian didn’t only say “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He also said the Church’s charity attracted followers, who said, “Look how they love one another.”
Catholics don’t only have the world’s longest penitential season; we also have the world’s most extensive charity efforts. Love comes naturally to us.
Last, share hope and unity, not division. Like Aleteia.
I know some people have been spending a lot of time and effort keeping track of partisan scores for us on Facebook. Each side has some great talking points about how the other side is a villain.
A far more helpful way to spend one’s energy is to spread the many ways the coronavirus crisis has united us.
You are in the right place to do that. Aleteia has been a remarkable beacon of hope in the crisis, sharing encouraging words from the pope, inspiring stories of sacrifice, and heart-warming stories of everyday heroism.
Spread the word. Spread the hope. It is needed now more than ever.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: The miraculous plague cross from 1522 at the Urbi et Orb blessing of Pope Francis on March 22, 2020.